Are You Getting the Most Out of Your Consultants?

by Susan Nemetz, March 2018

It is always risky to read one HBR article and then assume you can apply it to every other work scenario in front of you. But here we go anyway.

In their article, HR Goes Agile, authors Peter Cappelli and Anna Tavis explain how the concepts of “agile development from the tech industry” have begun to reshape human resource practices as well. As the article’s summary states, “Companies’ core businesses and functions have largely replaced long-range planning models with nimbler methods that allow them to adapt and innovate more quickly.”

The concept of continuous learning and adaptations has applicability to how external experts (dare I say, consultants) can assist the internal team. To take full advantage of this assistance, however, we believe both the engagement and the relationship overall need to be managed in a more flexible way.

Specifically…

Use external resources to improve capabilities and knowledge within your company

Use external resources to improve capabilities and knowledge within your company
Often, when we are working across several levels in a client team — and particularly if the effort includes people early on in their respective careers — we let them know that their management team has given them a gift by bringing us in.

The gift is not just because we are going to help get important work done (although that is what we are getting paid to do). It’s also because we are committed to helping them learn and grow in their own careers and will generously share our expertise, experience, and consultant tricks of the trade. In our work with clients, we try to provide an amazing deliverable along with a process for how to get there, how to update, refine, etc.

The goal is to transfer the knowledge and “know how” so the team can own it. Sure, we would love to do your brand plan every year. But if YOU can do it with enhanced capabilities and a more streamlined process, we believe we have made a difference.

Some of our clients understand this and make a point of highlighting the opportunity for their people. They may say something like, “Liz is terrific at project management. While she is here, make sure you learn what you can about her approach.” Or, a client team member may reach out and say, “Hey, can I talk to you about career paths and how to get to the next level?”

The point is, when you engage external consultants, you have access to coaching and mentoring in addition to the external domain expertise itself. This kind of insight is extremely valuable; it makes the team smarter and better, above and beyond whatever deliverable is listed in the SOW (scope of work). Just ask and encourage your team to connect!

Tap into their knowledge of the marketplace

As consultants, we are nomads and habitual outsiders. We see deep into your company, yes, but we also work regularly with other companies and professional service firms of all types. (Don’t worry; we like you best!)

Regarding other external resources (consultants, firms, individuals), we often know who you can rely on and who might not be a good fit. If we don’t, we will do some confidential digging on your behalf.

Stay involved

Given the pace and demands of our industry, it’s tempting to hire the firm, detail the SOW, and then put it on the back burner until the deliverable is due. In my experience, the best (and most cost-effective) outcomes occur when engagements are viewed as a collaborative and evolving process – one with regularly scheduled in-person or video touchpoints, clearly identified team members, co-leads on both the inside and consultant side and, most importantly, the flexibility to make changes and adjustments as needed.

When it comes to scoping an engagement, you can go the deliverable route or take more of an “evolutionary” approach. Personally, I prefer the latter, leaning towards less definition at the start in all aspects of what the work might be, and with the expectation that new information and understanding will change what we know along the way. This results in an approach in which we create phases and regularly check in to determine where to go next. (This requires us to manage our time carefully, of course, so that we don’t blow the budget!)

Cross-pollinate

Often biopharma companies have several different teams of consultants working inside the company at the same time, especially in commercialization — marketing, medical communications, PR, HEOR, business development, etc.

Having facilitated much cross-pollination within client companies, we know there is a lot to be gained through collaboration and alignment of external resources (i.e., deliberately bringing these folks together in one room). Fewer meetings are required; better decisions are made; duplication of efforts and rework is reduced; coordination of resources is improved.

Of course, like all complex processes involving us pesky humans, someone or something (tool) needs to keep it all together. As mentioned previously, that’s where Smartsheet does the heavy lifting for us (but use whatever works in your organization that people will follow).

Will some consultants balk at the prospect of revealing too much of their “secret sauce” if they are asked to collaborate? Possibly. But the enlightened ones will appreciate the efficiency inherent in clear communication and coordination of efforts, not to mention the opportunity to build relationships and learn from their consulting peers.

To start this process, a common set of assumptions (e.g., timelines, TPPs, expectations) should be created to ensure alignment. It really will make your life better and extend the impact of your team.

Connect with us

Consultants are people (really). When you treat people well they go the extra mile for you (and vice versa).

Consultants bring experience and expertise; that’s why you hire us. But in most cases, we are capable of providing much more to your team than just the specific deliverables laid out in the contract. Straight talk, on-time payments, constructive feedback (even if it’s critical) … all the things you do on a regular basis for your employees are also desired and appreciated by your outside partners.

We invite you to involve us more deeply and broadly in helping you reach your goals.